Universal Basic income (UBI) is a regular cash payment to every citizen of the country that adopts the policy. There is much debate about how much and how often a UBI should be paid. This blog doesn’t look to answer those questions, instead it looks to highlight the positive impact a UBI will have on young people. However, it is important to first highlight the likely impact the pandemic will have on young people.
The Resolution Foundation reports that young people are being hit hardest by the current crisis. One in three young people have been furloughed or lost their jobs and over one in three have had their pay reduced since the pandemic started. This is a generation that is already having to face the prospect of never owning their own home and witnessing the proliferation of zero-hour contract. Young people coming out of University face the unenviable task of paying off over £40,000 worth of student debt whilst future job prospects are not secure. Our lives will become precarious and we need a drastic rethink of the economy, otherwise, we risk becoming a ‘lost generation’.
A UBI policy will help to address, but not solve, issues relating to wage discrimination. Unfortunately, it is a reality for many young people that they receive less pay for doing the same job as their colleagues because of their age. Indeed, in man instances, young people who’ve worked in the same job for many years train older new members of staff are paid less, even though they are, in essence, more qualified than the older new recruit. At the age of 16 when I first started work, I experienced first hand these degrading effects of Wage discrimination. Working as a member of staff in the shoe department at Sports Direct, I was taken on with a wage of just £4.09 per hour. Colleagues who were the age of 18 were paid £5.85 in the same role, and that wage would increase for workers aged 21 and over, being paid £7.21 per hour. In comparison to my colleagues, a full days work would essentially result in 16 and 17 year old staff doing an hour of unpaid labour compared to their older counterparts.
As a naïve teenager, I was under the impression that this was just the way adulthood worked, being something to just accept. It was only after leaving Sports Direct where I truly began to question why wage disparities were able to exist on such a huge scale. Wage discrimination like this is not an isolated incident. This is a reality that young people are simply told to accept, despite how obviously unfair it is. A UBI will empower young people to refuse work that discriminates by age. It will incentivise employers who take advantage of these discriminatory practices to undergo a significant rethink of their structures towards wages and pay disparities that exist.
Further, a basic income for these young workers will be pivotal, not only because it would lessen the blow of wage discrimination causing less financial uncertainty, but also because it would mean many young people would be able to focus more on their further studies rather than sacrificing them to earn an insulting wage. Many students from disadvantaged backgrounds are often forced into work to supplement their independent living whilst studying in higher education, meaning sacrificing crucial study time in order to pay the bills. A guaranteed UBI will help remedy this issue, making the higher education sector more equitable for students from all backgrounds. The same benefits would also be true for those in apprenticeships, easing the burden wage discrimination faced for doing the same work as their apprentice employers.
Another reason why a UBI will be of great benefit to young people, also links into this idea of guaranteed financial certainty, in this instance in relation to zero hours contracts. As well as facing wage discrimination, young people who enter the field of work for the first time are more likely to be employed on a zero hours contract. Proponents of zero hours contracts outline the flexibility in which they offer, supposedly allowing a young person to fit their work around other commitments. However, the reality for many young people is that zero hours contracts cause financial uncertainty.
This is because consistent work hours are not guaranteed, meaning that a young employee could be working twice, or three times as many shifts in one week compared to another. This makes budget planning for young people, especially those who work whilst attending university, a very uncertain and anxious process. A guaranteed income will undoubtedly help relieve financial anxiety for young people employed on zero hours contracts, because a guaranteed income enables one to plan for paying bills and further expenditure.
The easing of financial insecurity segues into this blog’s final point relating to the positive arguments for a UBI; and that is, the improvements to mental health well-being. As mentioned above, the impact of Coronavirus and the ensuing financial crash has created an uncertain future for young people. With huge amounts of job losses predicted in the private sector, opportunities for young people to branch out and further their careers into sectors they choose seem to be closing by the day.
Understandably, this is causing huge stress and strain. This is in addition to the fact that many young people have been locked away from their friends, families and loved ones for several months. The future, as it currently stands, looks incredibly bleak. Rebuilding the UK after the Coronavirus crisis should have mental health at its heart. A UBI, and the financial certainty that it brings will majorly contribute to this rebuilding and helping peoples’ mental health. Governments need only look at the positive impact the UBI trials held in Finland (the most recent pilot) had on the participants mental health.
A UBI policy will require restructuring of the benefits system; however, there has never been a better time to rethink the social contract between the people and government. Albert Einstein once said that “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” This is the attitude in which we must move forward when we begin to restructure society. We must be bold, and we must be brave.
The aftermath of the Second World War resulted in the creation of the NHS. The aftermath of the pandemic must result in the implementation of a universal basic income.
A UBI can be our generation’s NHS.
If you would like to learn more about the UBI campaign across the UK, please visit the UBI Lab Network website. If you’d like to keep up with the actions we’re taking in the youth movement, in Cardiff or in the UK as a whole, please follow UBILabNetwork, UBILabYouth and UBILabCardiff on Twitter for the latest updates. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog.
Leo Holmes is Co Founder of UBI Lab Youth.